Cows, Greenhouse Gases, and Nature’s Carbon Cycle
There was an article published in the July 2019 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman entitled “Cattle are part of nature’s carbon cycle”. The title probably didn’t catch your eye, but the content presents a very different picture of the role that dairy cows (and beef cattle) have in regard to greenhouse gases and climate change.
A few excerpts from the paper are:
“…we have seen the media place blame for our changing climate on cattle. For dairy cows in the U.S., this claim cannot be supported by science…”
“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that along with carbon dioxide nitrous oxide, and some other compounds in the atmosphere create a blanket around our planet.”
“Without this atmospheric blanket, the earth would be too cold for us to survive.”
“The current problem is that concentrations of these gases are rising, which is thickening the blanket. This leads to an elevation in global temperatures and related climate changes.”
“The methane that cows produce is part of a natural carbon cycle that has been happening since the beginning of life on our planet.”
As shown in the figure below, CO2 is fixed via photosynthesis into plant carbohydrates. The plant carbohydrates are fed to animals where some of the plant carbohydrates get converted to methane and end up in the atmosphere. In about a 12 year period of time most of the methane gets converted back to CO2, and the cycle continues.
The step that is basically ignored is that methane is changed back to CO2 within a very short period of time compared to CO2 created by burning fossil fuels.
If you consider that we have less dairy cows now than 50 years ago, that cows are now more efficient, this then translates to less of an impact on atmospheric greenhouse gases today than in prior decades.
Does this mean we shouldn’t adopt practices that reduce methane emissions from cows and manure, certainly not. If new management practices and feeding strategies reduce methane emissions, and are profitable, their adoption should be considered.
Dairy can be part of the answer to atmospheric levels of CO2; let’s make sure that the message to the public is that dairy is a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.Joe Harrison, Livestock Nutrient Management Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Human-dairy Heifer Interactions
One of the most common causes of employee injuries on dairies is cattle. These injuries are a result of human-dairy cattle interactions that went wrong. Providing dairy cattle handling training is the first step in preventing cattle-related injuries. While many different training formats are available, including videos and lectures, which training improves cattle learning? We often focus on providing the most effective training for employees that we forget that training cattle is also beneficial. Cattle are capable of learning during training. I collaborated with two veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania (Dr. Michaela Kristula and Dr. Meggan Hain) and an expert handling trainer (Dr. Don Höglund) to conduct a study aimed at determining how weaned heifers respond to training. Our research was published last month in the Journal of Extension. Below are some highlights about what we learned:
Heifers are more difficult to handle.
Minnesota dairy producers reported in a 2014 survey that two of the most difficult groups of cattle to handle are postpartum heifers and calves (Sorge et al., 2014).
Relationship between heifer walking and slipping behavior.
We conducted a series of handling tests during our study, in which we herded the heifers from one end of their pen to the opposite end of their pen six consecutive times. Heifers that walked during handling were significantly less likely to slip. This is one reason it is important to move cattle slowly. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
Facing and approaching the handle.
Heifers that faced the handler during the tests were more likely to approach the handler. If heifers face the handler, then they are not facing the direction of their destination. Approaching the handler is counterproductive to safely moving cattle, as we rely on an animal’s flight zone to move them safely. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
Facing and approaching the handler.
It was interesting to note that when heifers faced the handler, they were significantly less likely to walk during handling. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
Repeat handling affects heifer walking behavior.
We conducted handling tests over the course of two days so that all 36 heifers were handled on both days. While only 56% of heifers walked during tests on the first day, 75% of heifers walked during tests on the second day. Repeated handling of weaned heifers may help with their handling ease. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
Facing the handler behavior affected repeated handling.
Throughout the first day of training, 44% of heifers faced the handler during tests; whereas, 31% of heifers faced the handler during tests on the second day. Once again, repeated handling of weaned heifers may be beneficial. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
Time of day affects heifer walking behavior.
Over the course of both training days, all heifers were handled once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Fifty-four percent of heifers walked during the morning tests, and 78% of heifers walked during the afternoon tests. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
Fewer occurrences of slipping occurred in afternoon.
Fourteen percent of heifers slipped during handling in the morning and 4% of heifers slipped during afternoon handling tests. Training heifers during the afternoon may be more effective than training during the morning. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
Type of handling training affects heifer walking behavior.
Handlers who received the lecture only training had 34% of heifers walk during tests; however, handlers who received the hands-on workshop in addition to the lecture had 81% of heifers walk. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
Type of handling training affects the occurrences of slipping during handling.
Handlers who received only the lecture training had 17% of heifers slip during handling, but handlers who received the hands-on workshop had 5% of heifers slip (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
- Adams Progar et al. 2019. Dairy cattle handling Extension programs: training workers and cattle. Journal of Extension https://joe.org/joe/2019august/rb8.php.
- Sorge et al. 2014. Perception of the importance of human–animal interactions on cattle flow and worker safety on Minnesota dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science 97:4632–4638.
Do you know a dairy leader interested in a unique training program?
The Leaders Enabling Advanced Dairy Safety (LEADS) program will be offered beginning Fall 2019. LEADS is a train-the-trainer program focused on preventing the most common types of employee injuries caused by cattle on dairies. Participants will complete a 4-hour training that will teach them how to provide an effective cattle handling safety training and prevent cattle-related injuries on their dairies.
Registration will be limited. We are planning to host four training sessions throughout Washington State. More details will be released soon. If you would like more information about this training, please contact Amber Adams Progar at 509-335-0673 or email@example.com@wsu.edu